Cintra revealed as mystery firm behind new I-77 tolls proposal, documents show

CHARLOTTE — The mysterious firm that made an unsolicited proposal to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to build toll lanes on Interstate 77 from Interstate 277 to South Carolina is Cintra.

It’s the same company behind the controversial I-77 toll lane project that stretches from I-277 to Mooresville.

NCDOT officials provided the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization and Channel 9 with the unsolicited proposal Friday afternoon.

Cintra notified NCDOT on July 29 that they consented to the release of their name and relevant information to the CRTPO. NCDOT was not disclosing details of the proposal, including the identity of the firm. NCDOT cited state law, GS 132-1.2, as their reason for keeping the unsolicited bid confidential.

According to the documents, Cintra is proposing adding two express lanes on each side of the 9.4-mile stretch of I-77 from I-277 to the Interstate 485 outer intersection. The existing number of free general-purpose lanes would remain the same.

“The proposed project will increase the capacity of the corridor by adding two (managed lanes) per direction and keeping the existing free capacity but considering full compatibility for future (general purpose lane) expansion,” Cintra wrote in the proposal.

Like the current I-77 toll lane project, Cintra would receive toll profits. The company is asking for a 50-year contract for the lanes.

“The concessionaire would be responsible for the design and construction, as well as for the operation and maintenance of both the new (managed lanes) and the (general purpose lanes) during the concession term and handback of the asset to the public sector by the end of this term, in safe and operable conditions with a remaining service life that will minimize NCDOT costs,” the proposal stated. “We propose the concessionaire to be also responsible for the tolling operations, the management of the (managed lanes) and provider of tolling services and roadside assistance, but we are flexible and have experience working in different scenarios of tolling risk allocation.”

An estimated timeline provided by Cintra calls for design and construction to start in the middle of 2024 and take five years to complete. The project would open in 2029.

In the letter to NCDOT granting permission to reveal details of the proposal, Cintra said their proposal will relieve financial pressures on the NCDOT budget.

“NCDOT will be able to deliver a $2.3 billion project at no cost to the state while ensuring enhanced user experience, and while also receiving an additional concession payment of over $200 million,” wrote Fernando Pizarro Quintanar and Ricardo Bosch Urzua, of Cintra.

The letter requested that NCDOT not release schematics of the proposed project, the financial model summary or the financial model of the project. In the letter, Cintra said Bus Rapid Transit would be able to use the lanes for free.

Cintra currently operates tolls on the 26-mile stretch from I-277 to Mooresville. The project received intense backlash and was the subject of numerous protests. Gov. Roy Cooper, who opposed the project, organized a committee to examine ways out of the I-77 toll lane project.

The committee recommended and CRTPO approved funding to add hardened shoulders on I-77, allowing additional free capacity during rush hour. The project is currently delayed.

Despite considering a new private toll lane project, NCDOT told Channel 9 their goal is to eventually take over operation of the current I-77 tolls project.

“The goal has not changed,” said Jen Thompson, spokesperson for NCDOT. “Like any project we deliver, we would continue stakeholder coordination and seek support from the CRTPO to ensure this is something they want to pursue.”

This is a developing story.

Click here to read the proposal.

Click here to read Cintra’s letter to NCDOT.

(Watch below: Charlotte-area leaders discuss I-77 toll lanes to South Carolina)